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Patricia Shen

Patricia Shen
Sabrina Owens

B.A. in Ethnic Studies, 2010

What was your most memorable/impactful Ethnic Studies experience?

Everything about my Ethnic Studies experience was impactful - from sitting in that first Ethnic Studies lecture with Yen to participating in the Ethnic Studies Honors Program to making short videos for Wayne's class. It would be impossible to pick one moment and commit to it as the ultimate culmination of my time in the program. The kind of investment the professors have in their students is a rare find within a large research university like UCSD. Because I value relationships and a connected learning curriculum, it would have been easy for me to wade through college, jaded and disjointed from the large class sizes and overwhelming student population, had I not been a part of the Ethnic Studies community. It has shaped my perception of the world and how I care for others. 

What are you doing now? How has Ethnic Studies prepared you for this career?

I'm the founder, illustrator and hand letterer behind Our Heiday, a stationery and gift design company based in downtown Los Angeles. It's certainly not what you would consider a traditional career path and it took a few years to get to where I am now. I applied to law school during my last year at UCSD, sure that I wanted to be a social justice attorney serving marginalized communities. I started at UCLA Law the fall after I graduated and it took two years to realize that I was not about to spend my entire career behind a desk reading contracts, briefs, or filing paperwork. I loved the direct client contact, but it wasn't enough to sustain the mundane day-to-day tasks. I decided not to finish my third year, knowing that I didn't want to practice law or take the bar. Instead, the creative frustration that had been brewing inside soon exploded and channeled into what is now this little company where I spend my days running a business, illustrating cards and art prints. I officially launched our site in June 2014 and since then, we've been blessed enough to hire a business operations manager and are now stocked in about 20 stores throughout the US and Canada. Though on its face running a business and Ethnic Studies may seem worlds apart, my education has informed so much about how I want to approach my career. It's taught me about moving the public imagination in different, unexpected directions; it's instilled in me the fundamental belief that stories matter. We don't have to read and write about the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality to do this work and make it meaningful. I think creatively weaving the ideas into our careers, regardless of where we are, is one of the most impactful ways we can propel social justice and systemic inequality forward. For me, this means rooting for other business owners whose family histories shape the products they create - whether they trace their indigenous roots or immigrant parents' hardships. It's important for me to be mindful of showing them that their stories matter -- when those businesses succeed, it allows others to imagine alternative paths for themselves. It means using portions of my profits to serve underprivileged communities. Based in downtown Los Angeles, just blocks away from Skid Row, the direct, positive impact of financial sustenance isn't lost on me. Never in a million years did I think I'd be running a creative business when I was an Ethnic Studies student, but it's been the best thing that could have happened and I'm grateful that my education has shaped a huge part of it.

What advice do you have for current Ethnic Studies students and alumni looking for employment?

Try things, lots of things, and don't be afraid to fall - the ground isn't very far. Let your understanding of how the "real world" works be challenged, but trust your gut. It's so easy for us to go through K-12, thinking that our careers have to be a certain way, that grownup life is pencil skirts and buttoned up shirts. If that's where some of us end up, that's perfectly okay. But if not, there's a place for that, too.

Sabrina Owens

Sabrina Owens Sabrina Owens

B.A. in Ethnic Studies & B.S. in Biological Sciences, 2010

What was your most memorable/impactful Ethnic Studies experience?

I will never forget the Walk Outs and Teach Ins revolving around the Compton Cookout and library noose in 2010. When students felt that issues or racism were not being fully addressed by the university the ethnic studies department was very supportive of the feelings of the students and acknowledged the issue that needed to be faced.  

Teachers and faculty were present at protests and came together in unity with the students. I remember Dr. K Wayne Yang giving a powerful speech, knowing his ideals about the benefits and disadvantages of social movements and protests. Students gathered around Price Center and the university center carrying megaphones and posters, and news members came to interview students and speak with the institution. The Ethnic Studies department and teachers helped give students their voice. They taught us to rise up without falling down and letting academics suffer; to reach out for support and guidance, but to also be heard. 

What are you doing now? How has Ethnic Studies prepared you for this career?

When I entered UC San Diego, as a Biology major, I quickly found an interest in the social and cultural aspect of healthcare. Desiring to gain more knowledge about biological and social sciences, I majored in both Biology and Ethnic Studies. The Ethnic Studies program provided me with knowledge of diverse cultures and gave me an appreciation for minority communities with an understanding of health inequalities. As I became more invested in cultural studies, I recognized the importance of our future healthcare leaders to gain an understanding and awareness of other cultures because the U.S. demographics are rapidly altering and this change will impact how physicians take part in the care of their patients.

The many classes I took with Dr. K Wayne Yang, Dr. Gabriel Mendes, and Dr. Roshanak Kheshti incorporated gender studies, sexuality, social movements, health policies, and so many more applicable topics that made me a well-rounded individual when applying to schools and introduced me to bias, a concept that it is important to understand as a future physician working with diverse patients. The Ethnic Studies major incorporates a decent amount of theory as a foundation of frameworks and methodologies used to gain a better understanding of social infrastructures.

I am currently a medical student in the UCSD School of Medicine Programs in Medical Education in Health Equity (PRIME-HEq). This program is composed of medical students who have a passion to serve disadvantaged communities and will complete an M.D. and Masters’ degree with the goal of enacting change. Medically, the communities I hope to work in have been found to have the most disparate environments with a decrease in access to medicine. This decrease in access also occurs from a language and cultural barrier amongst physicians and patients. Having an evidence based background in Ethnic Studies has given me cultural humility and an open mind when working with other communities.

What advice do you have for current Ethnic Studies students and alumni looking for employment?

Don’t underestimate the power behind having a degree in Ethnic Studies. Your degree is evidence towards your knowledge. Use that to your advantage and relay in interviews/on your resume the skills gained in analysis, research, and a broad or narrow understanding of institutions and cultures. Your degree can be used in so many different markets such as healthcare, social work, law, and government positions. Ethnic Studies is very interdisciplinary and when looking for work just remember to sell yourself!

Tyrone Nagai

Tyrone NagaiTyrone Nagai

B.A. in Ethnic Studies, 1997

What was your most memorable/impactful Ethnic Studies experience?

I remember running after Yen Le Espiritu outside Peterson Hall after an especially stirring Ethnic Studies 1C lecture. She had made a point about Asian American culture and gender, and I had said something like “Asian immigrant men are more sexist than Asian American men.” She gave me the most challenging, acid look. I’ll never forget it. Normally I had very cordial discussions with her, so I tried to figure out why she was so upset. Even though she didn’t say anything to me verbally, her reaction made me think about the foolishness of my comment. I realized I had missed her entire point about male privilege. That was very eye opening to me, and it turned me into a lifelong feminist (like Bruce Hoskins). Soon after, I remember Yen telling me she liked the writing in my journal a lot. That was the first time a professor had complimented my writing, and it gave me more confidence. I also remember her saying, “Writing is resistance.” That has stuck with me for a long time.

The lectures of George Lipsitz were also very inspiring to me. The way in which he made connections among seemingly disparate representations of Hollywood films, pop music, and political activism taught me the power of cultural expression and social movements as means to achieving social and political change. After I graduated, he sent me an autographed copy of his book, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness, which is a gesture I’ll never forget.

Most impactful of all, I made many lifelong friends as an Ethnic Studies major. Twenty years on from my days at UCSD, I still enjoy discussing current events with this group of friends, attending their birthday parties (or the birthday parties of their children), and working on artistic and academic projects together. I’m sure people from all majors will say they made lifelong friends in college, but there’s nothing more inspiring to me than having a conversation with a fellow Ethnic Studies major who really knows how to think critically about the pressing social, political, and economic issues of the day.  

What are you doing now? How has Ethnic Studies prepared you for this career?

Well, this is actually a tough one to answer. In 2011, I was laid off after working for 12 years as a social sciences editor. When I left, I was the senior supervising editor of abstracting and indexing databases like Sociological Abstracts and Public Affairs Information Service (PAIS). To make a long story short, I would have never received my initial break in the industry without my degree in Ethnic Studies. After graduating in 1997, I applied for a freelance position with Sociological Abstracts, and they wanted someone who could assign keywords to academic articles written about subjects like Neo-Nazism, White Supremacy, and Queer Theory. I was already familiar with these topics because of my Ethnic Studies degree, and I did well in the interview and on the writing exam. After freelancing for Sociological Abstracts for a year, they hired me full time.

Since being laid off, I’ve worked as a freelance editor, freelance book indexer, and an adjunct English professor. This gives me some flexibility in my schedule, so I spend a lot of time with my seven-year-old daughter and two-year-old son. I also volunteer as an assistant editor for Asian American Literary Review, which is a nonprofit arts organization.

What advice do you have for current Ethnic Studies students and alumni looking for employment?

As it turned out, my first job after college was working in the stock room at UTC Nordstrom’s for $6.25 an hour. The disappointing thing to me was I used to work at a grocery store in high school where I made $4.50 an hour. As a college student, I worked at UCSD catering, and that paid $5.78 an hour. So, going from $4.50 to $5.78 to $6.50 an hour in four years wasn’t a bad progression, but the immediate return on my education was certainly underwhelming, especially considering the student loan debt I had accumulated. After work one night, I went to see Jessica Hagedorn give a reading. I spoke to her afterwards about my ambition to become a writer, and she asked me what I was doing now. I was embarrassed to say I was working at a department store, but I told her the truth. The funny thing is that she too had worked in retail, and she told me many writers start out this way. For some reason, that gave me a lot of encouragement. Within eight years of that encounter, I was earning my MFA in Creative Writing, working at Sociological Abstracts, and seeing my own short stories, poems, essays, and visual art get published. So, stay positive, network, volunteer, and don’t be afraid to start at the bottom and work your way up.

Phuong Tran Nguyen

Phuong Tran Nguyen

Phuong Tran Nguyen

B.A. in Ethnic Studies, 1998

What was your most memorable/impactful Ethnic Studies experience?

I would list two important experiences. The first involved taking classes with some incredible professors my first year at UCSD. They taught me that my experiences and observations were far from unique, but rather a legacy of racialized histories and social structures that placed whites at the top. One of my favorite books, Yen Le Espritu’s Asian American Panethnicity, a book that Prof. George Lipsitz was kind enough to let a starving college student borrow, opened my eyes to the origins of how people from various backgrounds came together under the banner of “Asian American” and how panethnic consciousness has been institutionalized over the years. It was great knowing that progressive-minded Asian Americans existed long before me.

The second experience, just as important, encompassed all the friendships I made through Ethnic Studies. At the Departmental end-of-the-year gathering, I met some wonderful individuals like Alex Tom, Jon Salunga, and Melany de la Cruz, and others who knew well before me that change starts by building a coalition from the ground up. Because of them and other incredible progressive students from all backgrounds, I became involved in student activism and endured some incredibly disheartening blows inflicted on civil rights during the 1990s that only made us stronger. It was a wonderful feeling discovering that progressive-minded folks existed all around me.

What are you doing now? How has Ethnic Studies prepared you for this career?

Because of great mentorship, I opted for the academic track because I felt I could communicate with people not necessarily majoring in Ethnic Studies. That’s a gift I saw in the faculty at UCSD and I wanted to continue that tradition. My preference for what the sociologist Patricia Hill Collins calls “intersectionality” has led to classes like Race and Love in Asian America and eventually courses like Race and Economics, as well as Race and Sports. After bouncing around for a bit, I was hired by Ithaca College to kick start their long-awaited Asian American Studies minor. Starting Fall 2013, I will ingrain in students the importance of everyday struggle at the grassroots level, which includes building alliances all around, and to leave class knowing how to identify racism and also how to engage in anti-racism.

What advice do you have for current Ethnic Studies students and alumni looking for employment?

I think going forward, that besides being critical thinkers, that I’d wish for Ethnic Studies students and alumni to be selfless citizens who try their best to immerse themselves in their communities. Sometimes that might mean moving far away. Meeting new people and—I can’t stress this enough—keeping in touch can have so many benefits in the long run, from leads on job openings to valuable career advice to simply but most importantly friendships for life. But also to love our allies for their imperfections as well as their strengths because the fact is we won’t agree or have the same passion for all the issues. My inspiration for this is the late civil rights activist Ivory Perry, whom George Lipsitz described as a drum major for justice, whose biography reminds us that we can all make a difference in whatever field we choose to enter because only through broad-based alliances will we able to turn a struggle into a movement.

Bruce Hoskins

Bruce Hoskinsrgth

B.A. in Ethnic Studies, 1998

What was your most memorable/impactful Ethnic Studies experience?

My most memorable experiences in the Ethnic Studies program was centered around the classroom. I remember taking Prof. Yen Espiritu’s Race, Class and Gender class and my world was instantly transformed. I was a math major at the time and thought that I would teach math at the high school level, but Prof. Espiritu’s class opened me up to different possibilities, namely graduate school. Later, Prof. Espiritu became my official mentor when I was accepted into the McNair Scholar Program. Her diligence, patience and compassion for my development made me realize that I was capable of going to graduate school and succeeding.

What are you doing now? How has Ethnic Studies prepared you for this career?

I am currently a Professor of Sociology at MiraCosta Community College and count myself as blessed to have been teaching here for over eight years. I have published a book, Asian American Racial Realities in Black and White, which investigates how people of Asian/white and Asian/black heritage experience race. I am also a spoken word poet and have produced two spoken word poetry CDs in the last four years, The Truth (2009) and Kurumbo (2012). Although my degree is in Sociology, my heart will always belong to Ethnic Studies. The way that I teach and the content that I teach and the topics that I teach clearly speak to my passion for Ethnic Studies. Since coming to MiraCosta I have created two Ethnic Studies classes (Introduction to Black Studies and Chicano/a Studies) and am personally invested in making Ethnic Studies grow into a full fledged program.

What advice do you have for current Ethnic Studies students and alumni looking for employment?

Be active and aware of what is going on around you, but also stay true to who you are as a person.; There will always be new theories and ideas that will challenge your core belief structure, but that is not the same as giving up on some of the fundamental values that make you who you are. I continue to challenge myself to be a Christian and a social activist, a male and a feminist and a multiracial person that is just trying to make the world a better place for my children and grandchildren.

Heidi Tuason

Heidi Tuasonds

B.A. Ethnic Studies & B.S. Biological Sciences, 2007

What was your most memorable/impactful Ethnic Studies experience?

Some of my most memorable Ethnic Studies experiences were:

(1) doing a field study class with Yen Le Espiritu in a refugee community in City Heights, facilitating a photovoice project with refugee youth in partnership with the AjA Project. This is when I was first introduced to Community-Based Participatory Research.

(2) my first couple Ethnic Studies classes – a directed group study class around Pilipina Feminism (called Pinayism), and Yen Le Espiritu’s Asian American Studies 20. It blew my mind that I was more passionate and interested in those classes (and doing better in those classes) than my engineering classes at the time, and that my social justice work and learning could continue in the classroom.

(3) Wayne Yang’s 3-hour evening “Discourse, Power, and Inequality” class and his video assignment – it was great to combine my creative skills with my Ethnic Studies analysis of public health, and I realized the power of combining the two. Until now, I still make similar videos, critically analyzing and exploring various social issues.

What are you doing now? How has Ethnic Studies prepared you for this career?

I now have a career in public health, particularly focusing on marginalized immigrant communities of color and global women’s reproductive health.

After graduating with a dual degree in Ethnic Studies and Biology, I did an Americorps program called Community Health Corps in San Francisco and worked at a low-income community clinic called the Women’s Community Clinic as an assistant clinic manager and reproductive health educator. Then I got my Master’s degree in Public Health focusing on Maternal & Child Health, and worked in the Philippines with a reproductive health advocacy, research, and direct service organization called Likhaan Center for Women’s Health. During grad school, I also worked for various agencies, including Asian Health Services, Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, and Center for Digital Storytelling.  

After grad school, I worked part-time for various reproductive health organizations (Venture Strategies Innovations, RTI International, and Women’s Community Clinic) until I landed my job at La Clinica de La Raza in Oakland as Community Health Planner. I was there for 1.5 years and helped them develop programs around domestic violence prevention programs, community violence prevention, promotoras / community health workers, community health education, mental health, nutrition, and chronic disease prevention.

Now, I am a Community Health Planning Consultant for the Asian & Pacific Islander Health Parity Coalition in San Francisco, working with Filipino, Laotian, Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Samoan community leaders to develop culturally and linguistically-relevant holistic community-based mental health wellness promotion services. We are working in partnership with the SF Department of Public Health to make sure these API communities are able to access culturally-relevant health services.

I am currently in the Philippines for 2 months, reconnecting with the reproductive health organization I worked with, visiting the community leaders and members, and celebrating the passage of the reproductive health bill.

My Ethnic Studies degree prepared me to have a critical lens on public health, particularly in communities of color and global immigrant communities. It helps me to develop culturally-appropriate services for various communities and put culturally and linguistic appropriateness at the forefront of the conversation when talking about public health (not just  a tangential issue). Also, knowing the immigration histories of various communities, I am better able to understand the complex histories, memories, traumas, and experiences of immigrant communities, and their associated barriers and challenges to health. I am also better able to understand the assets and strengths to build off when developing programs. My Ethnic Studies degree taught me to explore  the world with a social justice framework, and to particularly analyze the cultural, political, social, economic, racial, gender-based, and religious influences on public health.

My Ethnic Studies degree also taught me an attitude of cultural humility as well. As much background as I know about a certain community’s history, when I enter communities, I acknowledge that they know their community best, and they are the experts on what is best for them. I remember our work is a partnership, and we learn from each other. Community empowerment and building off the strengths of the community is important, particularly for our communities who have been marginalized throughout history and have been seen for their deficits, so I learned to use a strengths-based approach, using an Ethnic Studies lens.

What advice do you have for current Ethnic Studies students and alumni looking for employment?

(1) Internships. Volunteer. Be involved in your community. Get your feet wet while you’re a student. In my experience, employers like to see experience and skills, not just book knowledge and your GPA. Actually, my experiences out of the classroom were equally, if not more, valuable in getting jobs. I had multiple student jobs when I was at UCSD which taught me various skills that I carry with me now: MSTP Facilitator at OASIS MSTP, Diversity Peer Educator at the Cross-Cultural Center, Teacher’s Assistant in the Bio Dept.  I also volunteered at a local AIDS organization Mama’s Kitchen, studied abroad in the Philippines, and was involved in the Pilipino orgs at UCSD (Kaibigang Pilipino, Kamalayan Kollective, and Pilipino Students Saving Tagalog now called Kabayanihan). When you’re involved in these things, try to reflect on what skills you’re gaining and things you’re learning through these experiences. Also, after graduation, if you can’t find a full-time job right away, do some internships or volunteer work – you’ll gain experience and skills while you’re looking for a full-time job.

(2) Know your strengths and your passions. Keep following your heart despite any obstacles or setbacks. And you’ll eventually find yourself in a job you love. Be able to communicate your experiences working in the community and what skills you gained and what strengths you discovered in yourself. Business-like books that I never thought I would be interested in turned out to be really helpful for me as a non-profit professional in identifying my strengths and unique aspects of myself. I recommend “Strengthsfinder 2.0”, “Now Discover Your Strengths”, “Now What? The Young Person’s Guide to Choosing the Perfect Career”, and “Do What You Are.”

Remember your strengths, your values, your passions, and communicate them during job applications and interviews. And remember, you’ll get a lot of No’s before you get to a Yes, so keep strong and do something that reminds you of your passions (e.g. put a picture on the wall of something that inspires you, read a novel by bell hooks or Maya Angelou to inspire you, watch a film like “Akeelah and the Bee” to remember your community is behind you, or visit the communities regularly you want to serve). Also, another book I recommend is “Get the Job You Want Even When No One’s Hiring: Take Charge of Your Career, Find A Job You Love, and Earn What You Deserve”.

Also, do something outside of job-hunting to keep yourself balanced—exercise, music, socializing, etc. Job hunting is strenuous and stressful. Remember to nourish your soul through the process.

(3) Networking is so much more important that you could ever imagine. Build your networks now. Networks are so important in finding jobs and opportunities, and for me, it was the key to almost all of my post-graduation jobs. Surfing the net for job postings can sometimes take a lot of time and be futile, so reaching out to your networks and contacts and letting them know what you are interested in and what kinds of jobs you are looking for will be key. Everyone knows someone who knows someone. After all those internships, volunteer opps, and part-time jobs (like I said in #1), build good relationships with your supervisors and keep in contact with them.

Reach out to alumni, and get on LinkedIn. Use Facebook as a networking tool as well. Also, if you plan to go to grad school, get to know your favorite Ethnic Studies’ professors through small classes, office hours, etc. Keep in contact with them too—let them know how you’re doing once in a while, so they remember you when you ask for letters in the future. It’s all part of the networking.

(4) If an opportunity will allow you to grow in the direction you want to go, take it… even if it’s not exactly what you want right now. And look for jobs in which you can have someone mentor you and coach you early in your career. This is one of the best pieces of advice someone gave me – to find opportunities to grow, not just the perfect job. The perfect job will come along eventually.

(5) Be practical but also don’t feel afraid to be choosy once you’ve established yourself. Have confidence in yourself – you’re a UCSD grad. It’s important to make a living, but also know your own worth and strengths. Once you have a job offer, determine if it’s a good fit and don’t be afraid to do some gentle negotiation around the details.

Stay strong, know that your Ethnic Studies degree is a strong asset to critical thinking, and remember that your communities are counting on you. They are lifting you up and supporting you – just remember to lift as you climb as well.

Alex Tom

Alex Toms

B.A. Ethnic Studies, 1999

What was your most memorable/impactful Ethnic Studies experience?

I was a student at UCSD from 1994-1999 when the right wing attacks on affirmative action in the UC system began. I remember our Ethnic Studies professors mentored and taught us in the classroom and in the streets what it meant to fight for social justice. They connected theory, history and practice. This sharpened my thinking and organizing on-campus and in the community. This also helped many of us who were Ethnic Studies majors to continue working for social justice in all different fields.

What are you doing now? How has Ethnic Studies prepared you for this career?

I am the Executive Director for the Chinese Progressive Association in San Francisco (www.cpasf.org). The Ethnic Studies Department provided me with solid values, a theoretical foundation and practice that has helped me become who I am today. In particular, the understanding of and commitment to the intersectionality of race, class, gender, sexuality is key in the 21st Century. All our communities, more that ever, need to be united; as poor and people of color become a majority in the US, we all need to have tools to understand global capitalism and the shifting social, economic political climate to continue the fight for social justice no matter what field or profession you are in.

What advice do you have for current ES students and alumni looking for employment?

I think we need good people everywhere and I think everyone should understand that organizing is not just a "field," but an important skill that you can take into any field. No matter where you go, you will need to organize your family, friends, and co-workers. Students should explore different opportunities on-campus, in the community and the academy. Working in the community for the last decade or so, I see many students wanting to go to graduate school because they don't know what else they could do. You can integrate social justice values in almost any career, but more importantly, you should open yourself to different experiences to better understand your strengths, skills, and passion. I organized and worked on campus at the Cross Cultural Center and OASIS, did the Faculty Mentorship Program with Professor Yen Espritu and Lisa Lowe, and eventually worked in the community at the Center on Policy Initiatives/Students for Economic Justice. It was not perfect or easy, but I learned a great deal about myself and built an amazing community on this journey. Good luck to you all. You all are the future generation of our movement!

Alumni Spotlight